“Taking Flight” at Abbot Hall

I’ve been looking forward to the latest exhibition at Abbot Hall focusing on 5 artists from the St Ives school. We went up to Kendal on Saturday to see it and I wasn’t disappointed.

Abbot Hall’s website

The show will concentrate on five ‘middle generation’ (or, more accurately, second generation) St Ives artists who used light, space and colour to create dazzling paintings of huge power and presence.

These artists are Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Bryan Winter and Peter Lanyon. All five produced abstract works and were influenced by the landscape and human environment in and around St Ives. But their individual styles and approaches were quite different and distinctive. They are less well known than the major “stars” of the St Ives school – Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth – but there are usually a sample of their paintings in most Modern Art galleries which have a collection featuring works from St Ives artists. But this was a chance to see a larger number of works from these five artists.

Patrick Heron was born in Leeds but his family moved to Cornwall as a boy, so he grew up there. His paintings are typically composed of large areas of bright colour. This one is very typical

Patrick Heron, Red Painting October 1959, 1959

Red Painting (1959) by Patrick Heron

He is also known for his paintings composed of horizontal bands of colour

Patrick Heron ‘Horizontal Stripe Painting : November 1957 - January 1958’, 1957–8 © The estate of Patrick Heron

Horizontal Stripe Painting (November 1957 – January 1958) Patrick Heron (Picture source: Tate website)

There are stripes in some of Terry Frost’s paintings. Vertical in this case, less colurful and only one element in the composition.

Terry Frost, Straw and Purple Visage, 1958

Straw and purple visage (1959) by Terry Frost

The paintings by Bryan Winter on display were similar and typical of those of his works I’ve seen previously. Complicated patterns of colourful squiggles.

Bryan Wynter, Torrid Zone Region, 1958

Torrid Zone Region (1958) Bryan Winter

Peter Lanyon was the only native-born Cornishman of the post-war St Ives group of artists and used to claim that this gave him a connection with the landscape that the other members of the St Ives school could only aspire to.

I haven’t particularly likes paintings by Lanyon I’ve seen previously. They have tended to be painted in dark, muddy colours which is not to my taste. The Yellow Runner on display at Abbot Hall is typical of this. The sky is a pale blue and the figure of the running horse on the hillside that gives the painting its name is bright yellow. And although there is a splash of yellow and white a good two thirds of the painting is composed of dark, muddy colours which merge into each other and make it difficult to see the shapes and structure of the composition.

Peter Lanyon, The Yellow Runner, 1946

The yellow runner (1946) Peter Lanyon

However, with a significant number of Lanyon’s paintings included in the exhibition I could see that this wasn’t the case with many of his works. He used brighter colours and strong blues to represent the landscape and the sea.

I particularly liked his Sky Deep

Shy Deep (1959) by Peter Lanyon (Picture source: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

and Silent Coast

I also learned that Lanyon had been influenced by Nuam Gabo, who was friends with Nicholson and Hepworth and had spent  some time in St Ives. There were examples of Lanyon’s constructivist sculptures included in the exhibition

Peter Lanyon Porthleven Boats

Porthleven boats (1950-1) Peter Lanyon (Picture source:Tate website)

By being able to see a good selection of Lanyon’s works all together I was able to appreciate just why Lanyon is considered to have been a major talent. The Courtauld in London are going to be holding an exhibition in London this autumn featuring15 major paintings by Lanyon from public and private collections. This, no doubt, will bring him more attention. On the basis of what I saw in Kendal, I certainly intent to try to see it.

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